Archive | The Writing Life

3 Reasons It’s Okay to Stop Reading That Book

stop readingI heard an agent once, talking about how she decides whether she’s going to read a manuscript. She said that if she likes a book, she knows she will be taking it to bed with her. Therefore, any book that wants her full attention, has to convince her that it’s worth taking to bed or else she’ll just stop reading.

What a fantastic mental image this conjures of a literary agent and book in a bar. The book is throwing out its best lines, and she’s trying to decide whether she’s taking it home with her for the night. Hilarious.

But also true. We take books to bed. Consider those first few pages like a kiss on the front porch. If the kiss doesn’t get you excited, why on earth would you take that book to bed?

In my experience, there are three reasons people try to read books they aren’t really into. As a public service, I hereby give you permission to stop reading that book if:

You feel like you should read it because everyone else is loving it.

A twenty-week run on the best seller list does not mean you have to love it. Likewise, just because something is “a classic” doesn’t mean you must enjoy it. If you’re not digging a book, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you. Stop reading, put it down, and find a book that grabs your attention – one that keeps you reading late into the night simply because you love it.

You’re worried you will offend the author if you don’t finish it.

Don’t worry. You won’t. There are of course exceptions to this one. If it’s a book written by a close friend or family member, you may have to push through, but most of the time, the author will never know (or care) if you finished it.

If it’s written by a friend of a friend, someone you might run into at a party, practice this line: “Oh, yes, congratulations on your book. I bought it. It’s on my shelf, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.” You bought their book. They will love you. You don’t really have to read it unless they become a close friend.

You have an overdeveloped sense of duty.

In the US, there are literally hundreds of thousands of books published every year. The number has skyrocketed since self-publishing became an accesible option. If you read one book a week, you will only read 52 out of those hundreds of thousands. Don’t waste your time on books you don’t love.

As a side note, I used to feel squeamish about saying I had read a book if I hadn’t finished it. No more. I stop reading a book for two reasons: 1) I finished it OR 2) I read enough to get a sense that it’s not for me. Either way, I read it. There is no rule that says one must disclose how much of a book one has read.

Go ahead, stop reading.

The thing that has been really liberating to realize is that it’s not my fault if I don’t care to finish a book. It’s not my job to like it. It’s not even the writer’s job to try and write something I will like. It’s their job to write what they love to write. And it’s my privilege to read what I love to read.

How long do you stick with a book before you stop reading? Or do you finish every title you pick up?

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Submit Your Stories to the Right Journals

submit-right-journal-for-youIn a previous post, I shared my free, downloadable spreadsheet for keeping track of where you submit your short stories. But when you download it, you will find yourself looking at a blank sheet. No one can tell you which are the right journals for your story. You have to decide that on your own. But how do we decide, as writers, where to submit our work? Continue Reading →

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The Final Ten Percent

final ten percent editingIf you follow along, you know I am working on two novels right now. The first I began years ago as my thesis project for my masters in writing at USC. It’s actually not too far from done, but at the beginning of the summer I stuck it in a drawer just to take a break from it and get a little perspective (as per the advice of super-writer Mark Sarvas). Continue Reading →

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A Request for Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth GilbertI have long been a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing. I know people went all gaga over EPL (it was pretty great), but if you haven’t yet read The Signature of All Things you are missing out. That book is stunning. Seriously.

So I had to pick up Big Magic when it came out. I don’t usually go in for that kind of book, the I’m-a-big-star-now-I-can-tell-everyone-else-how-to-write, but this wasn’t that. I was totally charmed by the sincere, eager joy that poured off the pages. Continue Reading →

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Seven Tips for Getting Up Early to Write (Even if You’re a Night Owl)

5am writingFor many years, while I was working full time, I got up early to write before my kids woke up and things got hectic. As a die-hard night owl, adjusting to that schedule was rough. I’m not gunna lie. It took me a about eighteen months to settle in, but that was because I went about it all wrong.

If you’re a writer trying to eek out an hour a day, consider getting up early to write. Here are seven things I learned along the way that might make the process a little easier:

1. You don’t have to be a morning person. Continue Reading →

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Let’s Get Our Damn Books to Agents This March

writing motivationThis is a text exchange I had recently with a good friend and fellow writer who is determined to get her debut novel out to agents this March.

We both have novels we’ve been working on for a while. A long while. Every year we say this is the year. But so far, year after year hasn’t been.

For me, the process of writing this first novel has been an education in and of itself. I’ve lost count of the number of drafts, but this is at least the fifth. I have quite literally deleted thousands of pages. It is a completely different story than it was when I started and I am a much better writer.

So when is it done? Continue Reading →

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A Modern Literary Salon

Before Saturday, I had never been to a literary salon. I guess I figured they were a thing of the past. When I pictured a literary salon I saw Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey sitting around smoking cigarettes and drinking themselves stupid while they critiqued each others writing, which sounds fun and all, but I’ve got kids.

But in the past month, I’ve been invited to two, count them two, literary salons. I attended the first on Saturday and it was fabulous. It was hosted by Barbara Abercrombie, a teacher in UCLA’s highly respected writers extension program. We met when I took a seminar from her in July, and to be fair, I kind of invited myself. Once I heard that this was happing, I knew I wanted to join, and she very graciously looped me into her email list so I could attend.  Continue Reading →

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On Writing Well

on writing wellA couple of years back, I taught a class on writing well.

My students were super smart engineers, who happened to write poorly. The aim wasn’t to turn them into brilliant storytellers, but rather, to ensure that they could communicate their ideas clearly. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant scientist to ever live. If you can’t impart your ideas with the written word, your reach will be limited to the number of people you can personally talk to and your ideas will die with you.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot lately. I enjoyed teaching it, but more than that, I found a deep satisfaction in turning poor writers into capable ones. If I managed to teach one person that quotation marks should never be used for emphasis, I will have left this world a little better than I found it. Continue Reading →

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My Updated Submission Spreadsheet

Updated submission spreadsheetA few months back I shared a submission spreadsheet that I created in Google docs to track when and where I submit my short stories. If you missed that post, you can check it out here for a full explanation of what this thing is all about.

Since then, I have finished other short stories and have started submitting those as well. As I tossed those stories into the mix, it quickly became apparent that the spreadsheet needed a face lift. And since I’m not the only one out there submitting short stories to journals, I thought I would share the new and improved submission spreadsheet with all my fellow writers out there.

You can download the updated submission spreadsheet here.  Continue Reading →

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